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Shareware & Freeware

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Shareware: the 'try before you buy' software

Shareware or Freeware?

People sometimes confuse shareware with freeware. Both are free to download, but the similarities end there.

The quality of freeware and shareware varies greatly. Check for reviews or comments in online forums to see if there are troubling issues.

Just like commercial software, once support is no longer provided, the software can become dangerous to use.

Open Source

Some software is open source where the source code (the code behind the software and how it works) is open to anyone to view. Examples are LibreOffice and Firefox.

Most open source software is freeware.

Learn more about open source software and its opposite, closed source (or proprietary) software.

Shareware “Try Before You Buy”

Shareware is “try before you buy” software.

After the specified trial period (usually 10 or 30 days) you are required to either pay for the software or to remove it from your computer.

Beware of Disabled Features

Sometimes features may be disabled during the trial period (e.g. you are unable to print or otherwise assess the program's full features). If the trial version is crippled, you aren't able to fully test the software (therefore it is not true shareware).

If you buy such software, ensure that you have the ability to return the software after purchase if the missing features don't work or don't meet your requirements.

Freeware “Free to Use”

You can install and use freeware software without charge but the author retains ownership.

Restrictions

Some freeware is licensed only for personal use or has other restrictions. Be sure you meet the qualifications to use the software.

  • Some software is restricted to personal use only. If not, it can be used for business.
  • Some authors require some sort of registration in order to use their software.
  • Some software is designed for older operating systems and may not work in current versions.
  • I recommend you retain a copy of the license agreement with the downloaded software to ensure you still meet the requirements if you install it again in the future.

Support Requests

If you're having difficulty with a freeware program, you should be polite in your conversations with the developer. Remember, they are receiving no compensation.

Positive comments on the developer's site along with your recommendations for improvement go a long way in getting the response you desire. They've developed this software either because they needed it for themselves or because it is a passion.

Some older shareware has been re-categorized as freeware when the developer is no longer supporting it.

Freemium

Freemium is a contraction of “free” and “premium.”

Freemium is generally free to download and use but is often supported by advertising. Besides the ability to remove ads, paid options can provide access to templates, extra gaming levels, special feature packages and more.

Most of this sort of software is aimed at the mobile device market.

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Shareware Compilation Sites

These are some of the main shareware and freeware repositories.

Watch for Misleading Download Links

Watch for misleading download links. Most are advertisements for malware designed to fool you into downloading them instead of what you came to the site to download.

Advertising helps provide the revenue to run these sites, but downloading an unexpected piece of software is not a fair exchange. Such sites are either poorly managed or simply don't care.

Don't Use Sourceforge

Unfortunately, the new owners of Sourceforge have allowed advertisers with fake download links. Major pieces of software like GIMP, VLC, Notepad++ and WINE no longer have legitimate links on this site. Do NOT use Sourceforge.

Watch for Scareware Tactics

Popups telling you that you're infected or that security problems have been detected are seldom true. They are designed to scare you into installing malware.

To avoid such problems yet respond to actual threats you need to learn how your security software responds to actual dangers. Do this before you're confronted with the need to determine if you're agreeing to install malware or following legitimate steps to protect your computer.

Hint: Legitimate security software will list the actual threat, not tell you there are dozens or hundreds of viruses on your computer.

Avoid Download Managers

Download managers allow you to stop and restart failed downloads.

The download managers incorporated into current browsers work just fine.

Many third-party and proprietary download managers (e.g. CNet's) mask what you were really downloading and have been used to introduce malware. Don't use them.

Watch for Add-on Programs

Many free programs introduce other “optional” (but pre-checked) software or toolbars.

  • When on the download site, watch for and deselect optional potentially-unwanted programs (PUPs) such as McAfee Security Scan Plus on Adobe's Flash Player download page.
  • When running the installer, read each installation dialogue box carefully, watching for pre-checked optional software like Google Chrome, toolbars, changes to your default Home page, etc.
  • Deselect ALL such options before proceeding to the next step.
  • Watch for extra license agreements that give permission to install additional software.

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Can't find what you want?

Try a search at StartPage.com (opens a new window) using the following keywords:

  • If you know the name of the program or the programmer or the vendor, try that first.
  • You might try the function of the software you are looking for (such as “text editor” or “email program”).
  • It might help to specify the platform you are intending to run it on (Windows 7, Mac, etc.).

 

Precautions

Varied Skill Levels

There are hundreds of hobbyist coders out there creating all kinds of software. Their experience ranges from the beginner to folks with years of experience.

It is probably better to use a referring site than download an unknown program from a programmer with unknown skills.

Search for reviews or reports on software forums to ensure you're getting what you want.

Check Downloads for Viruses and Malware

You should also make it a routine practice to check new downloads with current security (antivirus) software. Weekly checks of the whole computer (or when you suspect trouble) is also strongly recommended.

Check the Options During Install

When installing this software, be sure to carefully read each of the installation options to check for addons like toolbars (not recommended for privacy reasons), etc.

Be sure you understand what each option is and deselect the unwanted options before proceeding to the next step. That way, you avoid future problems.

Don't Accept Malware

Some "free" software requires that you install malware as part of the license to use it. I suggest you not install such programs no matter how attractive their features.

Related Resources

Related resources on this site:

or check the resources index.


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Updated: April 21, 2020